lulu, hillsider companion

lulu, hillsider companion

Monday, December 15, 2014

MORE rain (lots of it), a really really really good barbera from boeger, and the annual return of a beer that you'll wish you had in your town

turns out that you should never wish for rain without being specific about how much rain you're talking about. we are, at present, bailing as hard as we can and hoping for a drying-out period. the sacramento river is out of its banks and all local streams and creeks are flooding. here on the hill, we've had more than 8 inches over the past 10 days. thank you, lord, but just a breather, please.

having said that, on to other stuff of importance: wine and beer. a couple of weeks back we wrote about a particularly good sauvignon blanc we'd just had, that being boeger's el dorado sb from the 2013 vintage. the wine is, in our opinion, excellent, and a classic example of what California sauvignon blanc ought to be. we've heard from several of you who have since enjoyed it themselves, and we're happy to say everyone seems to agree that it's a great bargain at $15, give or take. several days after that posting we got a heads-up from greg boeger regarding their el dorado barbera, in particular the gold-medal 2011 version, which I have somehow overlooked. I say somehow because I like good barbera, and usually scout them out pretty conscientiously, but I slipped up on this one. however, even though greg closed by saying that he wasn't sure I'd be able to locate the '11, but assuring me also that the 2012 is every bit as good a wine, I was lucky enough to find a couple of bottles of the '11 model at a local specialty-type deli/food market here in our little city. I bought them both, and I can report that the investment was a sound one (not always the case with me: see citibank). I intend to look for a few more bottles, and to pick up a couple of 2012s as well. the '11 wine is very deeply colored, highly-perfumed (bittersweet chocolate, tar, dried strawberries), and very complex on the palate; surprisingly so, in fact, barbera typically being viewed as a wine to drink fairly early and often. in fact, the wine is still developing, and will almost certainly get even better over the next couple of years. my advice is to try it for yourselves. and consider laying a bottle or two back for awhile; probably a good bet.

and, as long as we're on the subject of beverage alcohol, it's time to say "welcome back" to sierra nevada brewing's celebration ale. for those of you who may not know, celebration is their seasonal fresh-hop ipa, made from fresh-harvested cascade, chinook, and centennial hops every year about this time. it's fruity, citrus-spicy, and straightforward, and there are a lot of folks who look forward to seeing it hit the shelves each year, ourselves included. if you're a beer lover and you haven't tried it, you should.
in closing, and primarily for those of you engaged in the management of private clubs, it has suddenly dawned on me that the industry is very quickly moving in the direction of the corporate model, i.e. "management companies". this trend has certainly been developing at a fairly steady pace over the last 10 -to- 12 years, and for good reason, I believe, but it seems to me to be gaining momentum at a very rapid rate now. as I said, I believe that there is much to recommend the model, particularly in the case of clubs that struggle to maintain membership levels and therefore cash flow. my direct experience with a corporate operator has been brief and limited, but I came away from the experience both times with a substantial level of respect for what I had seen and heard, as well as most of the with whom people I had interacted. landscapes unlimited and ClubCorp are the two companies with which I have direct experience and, though very different in the scope of their operations, as well as the mechanics of how they conduct business, both are certainly class organizations with sound ethics and policies. more on this later. I would also be interested in input from anyone reading this who has direct experience of their own.
that's it for now. stay warm and dry.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

more rain (lots of it) on the hill, and boring white wines (it doesn't have to be that way does it?)

we wished for it and we got it: rain and more rain. in fact, it has now been raining pretty much steadily for the past two weeks, with an outlook of more to come. cabin fever is setting in on me, the dogs, and my wife, as well, even though she's not really an outdoorsy person. I think I'm going to take lulu, my red heeler, out for a tramp in the hills regardless; she won't mind being wet, and neither will I.

before that, however, I want to lodge a complaint: I'm really getting tired of all the insipid, clunky, candy-ish, coarse, and generally miserable white wine floating around. most of it is labeled "chardonnay", and I'm certain that almost all of it conforms to present laws regarding minimum content, etc., but that doesn't change the fact that a whole bunch of it is garbage. and make no mistake, there's plenty of sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, and riesling on the shelves that is every bit as miserable.

the only reason it's there, I have to think, is because someone is buying it. so there are two issues: first, that producers are content to continue pumping out dreck (for dollars, of course), and second, that consumers are willing to settle for second-rate wines when they really could be drinking something of value and interest at the same price point.

I should be clear on one point: I'm not really pointing the finger at the bulk producers who routinely pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of "jug wines" into the market, most sold in 1.5 liter format, or in boxes. these people are, for the most part, presenting their wines as exactly what they are: value-oriented bulk wines for quaffing with a pizza or chicken pot pie, or for sipping on a blanket at the local beach, some of which are consistently pretty sound and good values. rather, I'm talking about the folks who are bombarding the supermarket shelves with labels and bottles that appear to be the product of some marketing genius with an eye for bright-and-shiny but no idea whatsoever about wines or the differences between them. or, on the other hand, maybe he/she knows very well the differences, and so must find ways to sell second-rate stuff. either way, it's a shame, because it doesn't have to be that way.

why do we have to buy a mediocre $18 chardonnay, when an excellent $15 albarino or chenin blanc will serve us better? why is no one touting chenin blanc these days? there are some very good ones around: in California, Chappellet and Dry Creek, to name only two of the very finest, have been producing superb wine from this once-widely-planted varietal for many, many years, and both are fairly easy to locate. pine ridge produces an excellent chenin blanc/viognier blend that is fine an everyday "house" wine as you'll ever want. there are at least a couple of dozen other California examples with good distribution, and distributors have to beg retailers to give them a foot or so of shelf space because almost no one working in the shops or waiting tables in restaurants today knows anything about the grape or the wine it produces. there are also many excellent chenin blancs from south africa, where the grape is well-known and much appreciated, that are being imported these days, and they are beginning to find a toehold here, particularly on the east coast and in the south. try ernie els' example if you find it (it's becoming a popular restaurant item in some markets, florida particulary) or graham beck's "game preserve" chenin, which will be harder to come by but worthwhile if you can. and there are many more, so do yourself a favor and seek them out; abstain from chardonnay for a month, and devote yourself to discovering not only chenin blanc (and don't forget the fine vouvrays of france, the original examples of great chenin blac), but also viognier, and albarino (a grape of Spanish/Portuguese origins), all of which can be found as varietal labellings in most decent wine shops, liquor stores, and supermarkets. you'll discover remarkable wines at reasonable prices (particularly when compared to the prices of chardonnays of comparable quality), and you'll also find that each of these new discoveries points you to another and another. believe me, you'll be glad you did it.
and you can do the same with reds; I've got some complaints to lodge there, as well, but we'll save that for later in the week.
by the way, for those of you who have asked who I am, I've attached a link to my little consultancy's website (if it works). your comments are invited.

Monday, December 1, 2014

problems for olive oil lovers (maybe), and discovering ferndale

thinking back, it turns out that I spent a lot of time indoors this past week, far more than I had intended, due to the fact that it rained every day, some days just a slow drizzle and others like a bucket turned upside down.

with all that time on my hands it shouldn't be surprising that my idle mind wandered. I did a lot of reading and thought about a bunch of stuff, some of it stuff of substance but most just brain ballast. however, at some point during my reading and re-reading of each day's l a times (the world's best newspaper, by the way) I came across an article that had me totally focused, if only for a short time. it was an article by russ parsons in the November 24th edition, in the "daily dish" food section, and it dealt with the rather depressing reports being written and broadcast throughout Europe regarding the quantity (and in many regions, the quality) of the almost-completed 2014 olive harvest. projections are that due to weather conditions virtually every olive-producing country on the continent has produced a crop that is significantly and substantially below normal. compounding the bad news is the opinion that Italy, which at the highest levels without doubt produces the finest table oils in the world, will, with spain, prove to be the hardest-hit. expectations are that the best oils, if available at all, will be depressingly expensive and difficult to get.

this is bad news for all of us who enjoy fine olive oils. because even if, like me, you tend to buy  California oils in preference to those of Europe, simply because they're ours, you have to understand that growers close to home have suffered some of the same weather-wreaked havoc this past year. the ongoing western drought, in particular, has caused California crops to suffer issues of both quantity (down to varying degrees in different locations) and, in some areas, quality. this is according to reports from u c davis, which is good enough for me.
we won't really know what the big picture looks like for several months yet, here or over there, but forewarned is forearmed, as my mama used to say. keep your ears open, and if you have a knowledgeable specialty foods merchant that you favor it probably wouldn't hurt to ask him/her from time to time how the supply lines are looking. you could, if you were so inclined, lay in a two or three month's supply of your favorite oils; probably be a good idea to get some storage tips from said merchant, too, if you decide to go that route, since the best oils are every bit as sensitive to light and temperature as good wines. we'll keep abreast of this situation, as well, and get information posted as it becomes available.

the other thing on my mind right now is my good fortune at discovering the little village of ferndale, caifornia, population 1300 (+-). Ferndale is located just off hwy 101, about 6 or 7 miles west of the slightly larger town of fortuna, and a dozen or so miles south of eureka. (yep, more humboldt county stuff). Ferndale's claim to fame (or one of them; we found a lot to like about it) is its downtown area, and the blocks surrounding it, which is the most amazing and charming little Victorian time warp I can remember seeing. the little town is pretty much exactly the way it looked at the turn of the last century, except with modern cars on the streets. the exteriors of the houses and commercial buildings haven't been bastardized or architecturally corrupted, but seem to have been consciously preserved as they were intended to be when built, and most of the interiors (the ones we saw, at least) appear to be as well. consequently, there is nothing contrived about what you see; it all seems natural.
we had lunch at the Victorian inn, a 100+ year-old structure that pretty well dominates its end of the main street. it's a beautiful old building, seems to be well maintained, and has an excellent little bar where you can sit, drink, people-watch, and enjoy a really good plate of upscale pub-style something. I had a lobster pot pie that was as good as any I've ever had anywhere (and I've had a bunch of them), and my wife had a platter of fish and chips that was about the same. mad river brewing's steelhead ipa, by the way, is really good with lobster pot pie.

okay, that's it for tonight. going to try to attach a picture of mt Shasta I took off our deck last week showing off its first snows of the season. hope its not going to be too small.

more later.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

we're a different kind of california up here

it occurs to me that there are a lot of folks out there who have no idea that California exists north of sacramento, if they even know that there is a sacramento. most people seem to be under the impression that san francisco is the state capitol, and that if it isn't, then l a certainly must be. all of those assumptions are incorrect.

in fact, California life actually gets better once you put sacramento in the southside of your rear-view mirror (although sac's airport is pretty nice). woodland, which lies just north of the airport on i5, isn't a bad place, although it has become a bedroom community for the capitol city over the past 10 years or so. my wife used to keep her horse there, when we lived in a quiet little condo community just across the American river from sac state university, and she liked to get out to woodland on weekends, even though she kept getting speeding tickets for 35 in a 25 zone and it got to be pretty damn expensive after awhile.

however, as happy as we were, and be that as it may, we discovered life anew eight years ago when we decided to get out of the city and took the great leap northward all the way to the valley's end, toward mounts lassen and shasta; the foothills of the cascades to the north, the sierra Nevada to the east, and the coast range to west. paradise, I came to realize, after wrestling with the lifestyle changes for a few years.

this is a different california. it begins to get that way just about the time you enter glenn county: it becomes rural in all the best senses of the word. olive groves, some ancient and unkempt and others newly-planted and clearly intended to be serious commercial enterprises, line both sides of i5, along with the occasional vineyard, peach orchard, or tomato field. the little towns that you pass through are all farm and ranch centered, and if you pull off to take a closer look, and penetrate deeper than the chevron, texaco, and shell stations lining the freeway, what you find is pretty much like what you would have found 30 or 40 years ago: insular communities of country folk going about their business just like mom and dad did before them, with the same focus on family, church, high school football this time of year, and worrying about the weather.

as you hit the city limits of red bluff, things change again, as you transition from intensive agriculture into what was once mining and timber country (and still is, to a degree), but is now more focused on regional health care  (city of redding) and recreation (all points north to the oregon line). fishing, rafting, climbing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, running, and golf are all important in this part of the state, and a lot of people eke out livings doing things that don't pay much or have a lot of upside so that they can live here and live that lifestyle.

as you might expect, there are thriving wine and craft beer industries scattered across our part of the state. we're lagging behind our more glamorous neighbors in napa, sonoma, Mendocino and even lake counties, but we're working hard to catch up. oddly enough, the world's largest commercial winery was once located in our part of the state: leland stanford's (yep, that leland stanford) winery at vina, the little village off highway 99 between chico and red bluff, was a huge operation, with more than 4,000 acres under vines. after stanford's death the winery was operated for the benefit of the university for a number of years, but ultimately was closed by the school at the onset of prohibition.

however, as often happens, what goes around comes around, and little vina is, today, again home to a very fine winery, that being the cistercian monastery of new clairvaux. we mentioned their albarino in an earlier post, but that's only one of several very good wnes they're presently making. and they're not alone; there are a half dozen more scattered around the area which we'll have more to say about in the future.

and there's beer, too. lots of it. the sierra nevada brewery in chico is well known
throughout the west, with excellent distribution and very competent marketing. mad river brewing company, in blue lake, isn't much known outside the north state yet, but they will be in the not-too-distant future; their beers are outstanding, their steelhead double ipa being one of my all-time favorite brews, and those who know them will go to serious lengths to get them. and, as with the wineries, there are more breweries to talk about, and we will very soon, but not tonight.
so all this is the long way of saying that even though we're not napa, sonoma, the bay area, l a, or any of the beautiful places not mentioned, we're here and we're pretty cool in our own homely way. we've got rivers, mountains, wine, beer, national forests, some pretty decent golf courses (more on those soon), and other stuff, too, and that's a fairly big part of the reason I bother to write this letter two or three times each week. I hope you'll take the time to read it, and maybe even come to visit...
okay, enough for now...good night.       

so, in

Thursday, November 20, 2014

greed and the walk of shame; rain; and a very nice sauvignon blanc

first things first: today's l a times (a really good newspaper that's getting better every day) had an excellent article concerning the shameful fact that there are a number of l a restaurants which are being hauled into court to answer for the nasty transgressions that, when taken together, add up to stealing money from those who need it most and work the hardest to earn it: namely, wage theft.

wage theft is a term that covers a lot of ground. it includes things like paying employees (usually those who are the least able to defend themselves, such as illegals) wages that don't come anywhere close to meeting the legally-mandated minimums; forcing people to work "off-the -clock"; stealing tips; not allowing employees time for rest or bathroom breaks; not giving meal breaks; and a whole host of other nasty habits.

don't misunderstand: these practices are certainly not restricted to l a. in fact, just based on my 30+ years in the hospitality industry, my educated guess is that l a ain't even close to being the city with the worst record in this area. however, being that the times is the paper that's on the trail at this particular moment, their city will have to take the heat.

the bottom line is that the victims are beginning to fight back. several years ago starbucks was hauled into court over the practice of what was politely referred to as "tip-sharing"; apparently, managers were including themselves in the distribution of the proceeds from the tip jars that patrons deposited the monies intended as a reward for good service to be distributed among the floor and counter employees, and the "barristas". this has been determined by the courts to be a "no-no"; only those employees whose primary duties are to directly serve in traditional capacities are considered "servers", and so entitled to the proceeds of funds given by those served as a reward. this does not include managers, cooks, dishwashers, owners, etc. nor should it, since in almost every establishment the servers are the lowest-paid employees in the house, depending on tips and gratuities to supplement the base pay given by the establishment. this practice is further set into stone by the "tip credit" benefit given by the government to the establishment which allows the house to pay the employee a wage that is below the mandated minimum wage based on the theory that they will supplement it through tip income that will raise them to a level above that "minimum wage".

you can see where the problem comes in.

so now, several newer generations of hospitality workers down the road from those who entered the industry immediately after ww2, we have people who are better educated, better read, more socially aware, and more plugged-in who still find themselves laboring in a culture that trails the rest of the business world by 30 or 40 years in many establishments, managed/owned by mentalities that haven't really progressed much beyond the European hotel/restaurant cultures of the '50s, 60s, and 70s. there are still European-trained chefs coming out of their culinary programs who today believe that patting a waitress or hostess on the butt or screaming obscenities at a dishwasher is a right, rather than a problem. the same issues are to be found in some culinarians and managers coming out of the Asian markets. they and the old-timers, however, find themselves confronting that newer generation of second-level workers, and that's where the sparks are beginning to fly. good. it's about time.

again, don't misunderstand: there are many, many fine managers and owners in the industry, who genuinely care about their employees and work diligently to see that they are treated fairly and with respect. however, the bad eggs tend to stink up the kitchen, and they need to be weeded out.

on to a more pleasant topic: it's raining up here in the far north valley, and both Shasta and lassen are shrouded in rolling mist and fog this morning. more rain to come, too, for the next couple of days; maybe as much as another 2 inches on top of the 1/2 inch yesterday and last night. things are looking up!

and another pleasant item to close: had a bottle of boeger's 2013 el dorado sauvignon blanc last night, and it was an outstanding example of what sb is supposed to be. the wine is absolutely varietally correct: it is pure. bright straw color with some greenish highlights, a grassy-citrusy nose that jumps out of the glass, and rich, crisp, grapefruity-green appley flavors on the palate and right through the finish. so good, in fact, that I intend to have another tonight. and only $14.99 at my local corner deli. I recommend you try it for yourself.

okay, that's it for now.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

tell the love tamales, don't you?

"... a traditional Mesoamerican dish made of masa which is steamed or boiled in a corn shuck or leaf wrapper (which one discards before one eats the delicious tamal), and which may be filled with meat, peppers, cheese, vegetables, fruits, etc., as desired."

so saith the dictionary. however, as is often the case, this definition falls short of conveying the true passion that many people, me included, have for this most comforting of comfort foods. some are better than others, or at least suit my taste better, but I don't remember ever having a tamale that wasn't at least good.

and they generally get even better with the addition of a little red (salsa rojo) or green (salsa verde) sauce, or a salsa fresca, usually a pico de gallo. these sauces are native to the same cultures as the tamale, and their biting, aggressive flavors are perfect companions for the steamy, almost creamy character of a delicate masa as it melts in your mouth.

over the years I've had the pleasure of eating many hundreds, probably thousands, of tamales. decades spent in the restaurant/club industry, and therefore thousands upon thousands of hours in working kitchens all across the southwest and west, have given me the opportunity to get to know many cooks, dishwashers, busboys/girls, and waiters of Hispanic backgrounds, and they have often been kind and generous enough to share with me food of their own making, or of a family member, which has been some of the best I have ever eaten. and almost invariably, the one food that they take the greatest pride in is the tamale.

it's not unusual for several generations of a family to gather for the purpose of spending a day (or two or three) hand-crafting many dozens (or hundreds) of tamales for the use of the family and their friends during the holidays, and many women produce more than they need in order to have some to sell, as well. I have worked in several locations where women who were recognized as being exceptional at the art would begin taking orders from co-workers (and, in the case of at least one large private club, from a number of the members, as well) a month or more in advance of the hoped-for delivery date; that would be necessary because of the demand for their tamales, and because they are labor-intensive to produce.

all this is leading up to something, of course, which is to say that I discovered, at this year's redding farmers' market, a treasure: the little stand selling Colima tamales, made a few miles down the road in cottonwood, an interesting town just off I-5, sitting on the sacramento river. these are some of the best I've ever had, anywhere. their homemade salsas, which are offered to those who are buying straight out of the steamer to eat on the spot, are excellent, too, but the tamales are the prize.

all the usual suspects and flavors are there: pork, chicken, etc., but the real jewel, at least to my taste, is the chicken chile verde, a plump and tender bundle of shredded chicken and green pepper (jalapeno, I think) in steaming masa. pair that with their salsa rojo and you're a happy person for hours to come. i'll find out more about this; don't know if they ship frozen or not, but if so some of you might be interested. you should be, anyway. I've bought them frozen several times, and they keep very well. the trick is to thaw them individually at room temp, and only as many as you'll need at any one time, so they don't  have a chance to absorb moisture, which can hurt the quality of the masa and cause them to become a little soggy. more to come on this one.

one more thing to mention tonight: new clairvaux vineyards' albarino. this is as pretty a white wine as I've had at this price point in a while, and the first California albarino I've tasted that tastes like albarino, although, in truth, I've not had that many yet because I love Spanish albarino and don't want to be disappointed in the comparison. however, new clairvaux's is fresh and peachy in the nose, crisply fruity on the palate, with hints of smoke and pears, and just-firm ripe peaches and a hint of vanilla in the finish. very nice indeed with cold boiled shrimp or lobster salad, or as an afternoon sipper. new clairvaux is, for those of you who don't know, the little winery in vina, California, between chico and red bluff, that is now producing some very nice reds, including really good zin and petite sirah, as well as an interesting tempranillo. this is the first of their whites I've tasted, and I'm impressed, especially given that their location, like ours here in redding, is hotter than hell during the growing season, and a little difficult to manage at times. probably the reason they've decided to pursue cultivation of rhone and Spanish varieties. more to come on them.

okay, that's it for tonight. hope you're well.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

are wine pipelines backing up?

something has caught my eye, and it's causing me to wonder...are wine supply pipelines beginning to back up?

it seems to me that suddenly, or at least recently, I've begun to see wine retailers throwing significant discounts against the wall to see what might stick. and when I say "retailers" I refer to them as a breed, meaning specialist shops, liquor stores, grocers, and even on-premise outlets such as restaurants and wine bars: everyone. is this just coincidence, or does it mean something? beats me...

usually, and I know this from 40 years in the food and beverage industry, when someone begins to discount, especially when he or she discounts sharply, it means that they have a more or less urgent need to move inventory in order to free up cash. that could be for any number of reasons when one or two scattered individual outlets are concerned: maybe he/she is short of cash and needs to pay a tax liability, or make a mortgage payment, settle a divorce, pay a child's tuition, or just buy a new car. on the other hand, when it manifests itself over a broad spectrum of outlets, and fairly suddenly, it frequently signifies a general softening of the market; people have a lot of product that nobody seems willing to buy.

what to do? discount, and try to do it before anyone else notices the phenomenon and undercuts you.

so, if all of a sudden I'm seeing not just one or two folks in my little end of the valley cutting prices, but a bunch of them, and at all levels of the chain, what am I to assume? right. they can't sell wine at standard markup, so they're hitting the panic button.

why is that? not why are they panicking...that's just human nature, self preservation if you will. but why are they being put into a position that requires their panic? the first answer that comes to mind is: market saturation. but why is that? I don't recall seeing any calls to panic during the past several years in the trade publications that I read on a regular basis, no writing that harvests were so over-abundant that the wineries were over-producing to a degree that was far beyond the capacity of the consumer to consume. so that's probably not the problem. so what is it? pricing? well, prices are high, no question of that; however, that in itself argues that the market isn't saturated with overproduction. unless, of course, the market was once again suckered into believing that the bubble would expand forever regardless of any negative market pressures. things like happened just a few years ago like...oh, never mind. you remember, I'm sure. I certainly do; my 401k never completely recovered (thanks, citi), and I am pretty sure that most of you have similar memories.

so what's going on? although, to be completely honest, at this particular time I'm not too unhappy since I've made some exceptional buys over the past week or so, restocking the wine rack just outside my office at home at an average discount of close to 30% off retail. however, my interest is aroused, so i'll do some digging and get back to you in a day or so. what is the wine market up to, and why?

take care.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

farmers' markets: what have we learned?

for one thing, we've learned, over the years, that there's a lot more going on at most of them than you might think. they're generally more than a collection of pick-ups, ex-hippies and organic squash. 

almost every city and town has one, if only seasonally, especially when you get out into the countryside, and folks get very possessive of their favorites, sometimes making a point of going by every week just for the social value. at times they can seem more like county fairs than anything else.

which brings me to the subject of this year's version of the redding market, one of northern california's most interesting, at least lately. i have no idea what the organizational structure might be; since it's located in the little park behind city hall I have to believe that there's some level of local bureaucracy involved, but who or to what degree I don't know. however, whoever might be doing the job is doing okay.

not only do we have llama breeders peddling their knit-wares, but they're cheek-by-jowl with the pie lady (whose little individual-size peach pies were ass-kickers), the Asian-immigrant tomato/squash/cucumber/pepper farmers from chico, the olive farmer/oil producer from happy valley (pretty good table oil, but a tad precious in price), and the tamale ladies from down the street (Colima tamales, which one could happily live on, and which we'll have more to say about later), as well as 40 or 50 other farmer/vendors from shasta, tehama, glenn, and trinity counties, as well as parts unknown. as well as a different set of musicians each week, who settle fairly comfortably beneath the sparse shade, extension cords running this way and that, and making music of varying value.

and that brings me to the point (or one of them) of this post: once in a while you stumble on someone or something that surprises you in a pleasant way, and this summer Colima tamales were that someone/something that I was lucky enough to discover: they are wonderful, and I want to eat them regularly forever. i'll have more to say about this very soon, but all you have to do right now is wish that you were living somewhere you could get them. (if you are, say, in one of the above-mentioned counties, get yourself online and find their website to locate a place to buy them). not only are they delicious (melt-in-your-mouth so) but I'm pretty sure that I look exactly like robert redford for about an hour after I eat one.

and, to close for tonight, I have to say that there have been some pretty decent musicians on hand this year. I tried to get cards and/or names from the folks that caused me to stop and listen but missed some, or lost them after I got them, so don't feel right about naming names, but will try to come back to this after I can get my information straight. apologies where due.

more very soon, tomorrow probably, as I've got more to talk about, but ready for bed. the photo, by the way, is looking out across the far north valley off our deck after the first rain in almost 7 months at a double rainbow: thank you, Lord, life is good.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

starting over

i had 3/4 written a new posting, then decided to start over. I got bored with myself, I think, and re-reading what I had written earlier in the afternoon made me want to hit myself in the face. it just sounded preachy, and felt sort of like chewing on cardboard. anyway, it wasn't anything I wanted to go back to.

so, instead, I'm going to bore you with something different: workingmen's (and workingwomen's) wines. in truth, if you're taking the time to read this you probably aren't bored at all with the subject of good wines at down-to-earth prices. life is hard enough these days without trying to figure out how to pay for a good bottle of zin (my personal favorite, as you may or may not already know) to accompany your cheeseburger and b&m baked beans at dinner, so lighten up superstars in geyserville and calistoga, so the guys in plymouth and girls in vina (and a bunch of other little out-of-the-way rural ava's) can get some room to breathe.

at dinner in trinidad, at the eatery, last week, while waiting for a big plateful of beer-battered fish and chips (fresh cod, and boy was it good), I had a glass (2 actually) of sobon estate's old vine zin, which was fairly rich in slightly tarry blackberryish fruit, nicely balanced, and drinking beautifully. the little dining room was very busy, so I never had the nerve to ask the waitress to go check the vintage for me, but since the little restaurant shows no inclination to offer a captain's list or anything else that suggests they like the idea of tying up cash to age wines, I have to believe it was whatever is currently offered by the wholesaler, probably the 2012. full disclosure here, i was lee sobon's first-ever texas distributor back in the late 70s and early 80s, and have always liked his wines very much, some years being more impresive than others, but always good value to the wine lover. his cougar hill zins, I have to say, i have never failed to enjoy, and from time to time have ranked it in the top 10 red wine buys in the state in a particular vintage, at least in my humble opinion. the sobons aren't the only people making good wine in amador, certainly, but they are perhaps the most consistent, with renwood i suppose. if you love zin and don't know sobon's wines, seek them out; you'll find the effort worthwhile. you can find them at sobon family wines on the net.

sorry. I can't help going off on tangents from time to time; i find it important to pursue thoughts that mean something to me while they're available. my point is this: there are lots of people making good-to-very good wines at reasonable prices in every part of the state (California, that is), so there's no reason for you professionals out there to present crap wine lists to your clientele simply because you're too lazy to do the work and find them. if you are that big a slug, then hire someone else to do it for you, then get the hell out of their way and let them go to work. believe me, you'll reap great financial benefits, and your personal reputation in your local market will begin to show signs of improvement as soon as folks begin to take notice. I will tell you, very frankly, that there are few things in this world that infuriate me as much as a restaurateur who presents a decent menu, well thought out and conscientiously prepared by culinary professionals who care about their craft, who then ruins the experience for the knowledgeable and caring diner (especially me) by accompanying it with a piece-of-shit wine list. and there are a lot of you out there. anyway, I promise that if you just follow this one simple tip, your life will improve in every area, from sex to the respect of your fellow pros.

more on this subject soon. in the meantime, hook'em horns and drink zinfandel where appropriate.

have a good weekend.


Monday, November 3, 2014

semi-retirement is a pain in the butt

one of the many problems that come along with retirement (or, in my case, because i drive even myself crazy when i have nothing to do, "semi"-retirement, which allows me to go find something, anything, to do with myself that will take me away from home) is that you have an awful lot of time to think. for some of us, that's not good, as it tends to bring things to the retiree's attention that will further irritate him. this happens to me frequently.

  the thing that has caught my attention at present, and is irritating me a fair amount, is the unavoidable fact that the american wine industry has begun to take itself way too seriously. true enough, it hasn't yet gone as far out into left field as the french, who began entering the outskirts of the twilight zone in the early '70s (particularly the bordeaux producers), but given the fact that they had a couple of hundred years head start on the road to crazy, we're catching up pretty quickly. let's face the truth: a bottle of wine (even a very good one) shouldn't set the average winelover back to the tune of a car payment. in fairness, it doesn't seem right to lump everyone into the same pile; top-end california (and oregon) pinot producers don't seem to be as taken with themselves as the elite cabernet and merlot producers, but i have to generalize to a certain degree so that we can make a little headway. i also have to admit up front that i write almost strictly about west coast growers and winemakers, since my knowledge is focused where i live and breathe.

so, having said that, i need to clarify a couple of things before moving ahead. first, i need to bring forward the fact that i, in the company of several friends/partners, was one of the original pioneers of the california boutique wine movement (as it was known in the early days of the late '60s and into the '70s) in the state of texas, and did my fair share in establishing a market for the wines of ridge, chateau montelena, sutter home (back when they made real wines under the direction of bob trinchero), dry creek, trentadue, freemark abbey, foppiano, cuvaison, and many others, including some that are now disappeared (see gemello, yverdon, souverain, etc.). therefore, i feel entitled to express an opinion on the current state of affairs.

second, i strongly believe that we need to drag ourselves back to earth before the villagers get fed up and storm the castle. understand me: i love fine wines, and the finer the better. however, I don't like to pay, nor do I really want to see anyone else pay, a stupid price to enjoy them. a great piece of beef costs a certain number: okay, pay it. a great piece of fish costs a certain number: okay, pay it. PAY A FAIR PRICE FOR WHAT YOU RECEIVE, NOT A STUPID PRICE.  cabernet grapes (and chardonnay, and zinfandel, and pinot noir, and touriga nacional, and tempranillo, and a host of others are certainly difficult to grow, and really hard to grow at the very highest level, BUT THEY ARE GRAPES. and winemakers are like chefs: they are, to one degree or another, technicians with a degree of soul, but they are not gods and should not expect mortals to consider them to be such. their work is to be respected, not worshipped. come on!

further, there are a whole bunch of other hard crops to grow at the highest level: tomatoes, apples, berries of various types, etc., but they don't cost as much as a car, ever.

so, to summarize: let's get real. wine is a food. it's that simple. some foods are more enjoyable than others, true enough, but, as in love, there's someone for everyone.

I know you're bored. so am I. so let's move on. i'll come back to this soon enough, because it's like picking a scab or hitting 60 degree wedges at the range at night: I can't leave it alone.

something new tomorrow. see you then.     

Friday, October 31, 2014

the coast gets better and better

just returned from three days on the far north coast, mostly in the trinidad/arcata/blue lake area, and boy was it good. weather all over the map, from perfect northern California fall mild temps and purest blue skies on sunday and monday to gray, wet and chilly tuesday.

folks who have never been as far north as eureka and its neighborhood have no idea what they're missing. it's sort of a combination of most of the cool stuff to the south: mendocino's weather and determination to preserve its past; sonoma county's agrarian orientation (although that's becoming a touch strained), with its vintner/farmers, craft dairy industry (as in great cheesemaking), and small-town restaurant culture; and, last but not least, the redwoods and rivers, and all that goes with them.

we stayed in the emerald forest inn (trinidad) again, and enjoyed it just as thoroughly this time as last, although housekeeping seemed a little looser. dinner twice at the eatery (also trinidad), and it, too was again a win: fish and chips (fresh-caught local cod) and sobon estate's (amador county for those of you not familiar) old-vine zin, which was excellent and was a nice foil for the beer batter on the fish. also dined one evening at trinidad's other seaside restaurant, which shall, because my momma told me never to say anything if you can't say something nice, go unnamed. suffice it to say that this was our second attempt to find something to love there, but once more we were unsuccessful; in fact, we were bitterly disappointed: miserable wine list, poorly-conceived and equally-as-poorly-executed menu, and inattentive service (especially for 90 bucks) left us with a resolve never to return. with us it's two strikes, not three.

in closing, a note for you wine lovers: get out and find yourself some mc nab ridge. these are apparently the current effort of the parducci family, an old-line mendocino winemaking family who have had their ups and downs, as have we all, but who have seemingly figured it out again under the guiding hand of rich parducci, whom I have never met, and whose relationship to the patriarch, john parducci, a long-ago friend of mine, I'm not yet sure. what I can tell you right now is that the 2013 chardonnay and the 2012 old vines zin "family reserve" are both excellent, and are bargains to boot, at +- $16 and $25 respectively. their website is money well spent, I assure you.

enough. more in a day or so. please feel free to share this site with friends who love good wine, good food, and the wonders of northern California.         

Saturday, October 25, 2014

rain on the hill

hard to believe, but we're finally seeing some rain push in off the pacific and then find its way the 150 or so miles across the coast range and trinity alps to our little corner of the north valley. so far, in the last four days, we've gotten one pretty good soaking (for us, anyway) and a couple of hours of drizzle and spitting yesterday. tomorrow nothing expected, but then we should get into a pretty sweet pattern for a few days, with a nice system swirling our way. fingers crossed here...

otherwise, kind of quiet at present. the upside is that we're taking off on sunday for one of our favorite places to hide out, eat great fresh pacific seafood, and drink obscure far north coast wines, and I'm way past ready for the break. most of the half-dozen or so of you who know me and/or read this will know that likely means we're bound for the little coastal hamlet of trinidad, located off highway 101 just about 15 or so miles north of beautiful eureka, land of ancient redwoods and more recently seeded marijuana plantations. and you'd be right.

as for the obscure wines, more later, because some of them are remarkably good considering they're generally not found outside a three or four county area (humboldt, mendocino, shasta, and maybe trinity), and then only on a hit-and-miss basis. first, though, a heads-up for any of you planning a trip to or through the eureka/arcata/trinidad area anytime soon: two recent discoveries of ours are the emerald forest inn (a jewel of a back-to-the-past little lodge/motel hidden in the redwoods just outside trinidad), and a tiny restaurant called the eatery, in trinidad's picturesque "downtown" area a few blocks from the waterfront.

the emerald forest inn is an institution of many years' time, and is best described as what it undoubtedly began its life: a forest lodging for those who value peace, quiet, and close commune with nature. the accommodations consist of a grouping of cozy little individual cabins of varying interior layout and levels of creature comfort, according to the size of your party and desire for amenities, as well as a camping ground for those who prefer to tent-and-sleeping-bag-it, and extensive space is reserved for the use of the rv set. the cabins are clean, snug, and well appointed, prices are reasonable, management is responsive, and your neighbors are usually quietly considerate, with no after-hours nonsense. we recommend.

the eatery is pretty much what it sounds like: a small, homey, neighborhood-type restaurant sitting unobtrusively on trinidad's little main drag that winds to the waterfront. the service is attentive and conscientious, if not professional; the wine list is small, but with interesting regional/local efforts offered by the glass; the food is reasonably priced,  fresh and very well-prepared, more or less simply, and is always good, if not even better. again, we recommend.

okay, time for bed. we're leaving early in the morning for the coast: eureka (love the old downtown district, especially the bookstores and bars); trinidad, for the reasons mentioned above; and points north and south. more when we return, including wines, which I've run out of time and space to discuss tonight.

don't forget to vote.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

workingman's wine

welcome to our first ever-effort at getting our long-promised blog up and visible to anyone who cares, which may or may not be anyone at all other than me and the few people who have worked to fix the technical problems that have plagued us for a while.

clearly, even though we're about to send this first post sailing out into the ether more or less just so we can say we did, what we have here, at least at this present moment, is a pitifully ugly-duckling and basic site, but we assure you that we're pretty quick learners, and expect this thing to get better (prettier, anyway) fast.

having had a lot of time to think about what I hope to accomplish with this site while we were trying to figure out why nothing was working the way we were told it would, and having had second thoughts about trying to do too much too soon here (not a new issue for me), I have come to the realization that I can do a couple of things that matter most to me from day one.

first, I can set the stage for what I intend to accomplish with this site from the perspective of conscientiously and relentlessly working to introduce to every single person who bothers to visit and read this now or in the future, the incredible wealth of stuff  to see, enjoy, and live in the world that is far northern California. particularly if you care about things like wine, food, mountains, rivers, and people without pretensions. not pointing any fingers, mind you, just saying.

second, I hope to be able to bring to the attention of the aforementioned people who care about the aforementioned stuff some specific folks who farm, ranch, cook, bake, or otherwise create certain products, whether they be wines, beers (lots of that around the north state), tamales, pies, cheeses, olive oils, boots, or something else entirely, who might without this little bit of help go unnoticed amidst the general goofiness that is the world as we know it today.

and, speaking of wine, many of you will be hearing and learning for the first time that we here in the lesser-known far reaches of the north cultivate something other than marijuana. true enough, there's a lot more acreage planted to the weed than to vinifera, most of it illegal and hidden away on public lands far out in the foothills, but it's more enjoyable and much safer to drink a new clairvaux barbera, for instance, with a furnari sausage crackling-hot off the grill or a mount Tehama petite sirah with a smoky-rich bourbon-sauced plate of brick's ribs than to hunker down in your crazy neighbor Dave's darkened den to suck on a joint while watching Monday night football, drinking a miserable light beer, and eating potato chips and twinkies. so I've been told.

continuing to speak of wine, I might as well say up front that our main focus will be what I call workingman's wine, meaning those that can be bought pretty much any day of the week for $25 or less. sometimes a lot less. and that's not only because that's mostly what we produce up here in the wilds of Shasta, glenn, and Tehama counties; more to the point, I guess, is the fact that those of us who drink it every day as a part of a healthy lifestyle, can't afford to spend $1000-1500 per month on one food group, nor do we need to do so. therefore, we feel not only compelled, but obligated, to help seek out and identify very good wines that most of us can drink on a regular basis without endangering the mortgage payment, and shall do so.

thanks for taking the time to seek us out, and for having the patience to stick with me this long. we'll have more to say very soon.

adios for now,